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Patient gets an uplifting visit from a surprise visitor

Sugar Land, TX - 3/19/2013

Recovering in his room after surgery, patient Malcolm Host received a powerful pick-me-up when he was able to see a familiar face with a cold, wet nose.

Host received a visit in the hospital by his dog, Chai, a 6 year old toy poodle. Chai’s trip to the hospital was the first personal pet visit at Methodist Sugar Land Hospital (MSLH), facilitated by PAWS Houston. Typically, pet therapy involves the use of animals that do not belong to the patients.

Malcolm Host, Donna Host and ChaiMalcolm Host, Donna Host and Chai

“This is wonderful of MSLH to coordinate this visit.  To me, having her here makes all the difference in the world,” Host said, as he stroked his dog’s ears.

The pet visitation program allows personal pets to visit their owners in the hospital for a short time, usually about an hour. The program provides an extra measure of support for patients.

“Because they give comfort and unconditional love, pets have a special place in their families’ hearts,” said Patricia Lewis, Director of ICU at MSLH.  “Enabling a patient to see his or her favorite pet is like medicine for the soul. It lowers blood pressure and pulse as well as improves the patient’s sense of well being.”

The Methodist Hospital System works in partnership with PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support) Houston, a locally based nonprofit group, to make sure pets have proper vaccinations and temperament to make such a visit.

A wonderful PAWS Houston volunteer met Chai at the front entrance, evaluated her temperament and facilitated the visit. Mrs. Host brought Chai in a pet carrier to the 6 East Unit where Mr. Host was receiving care. When Host’s little white dog jumped on his lap, his face lit up with happiness.

PAWS Houston was founded in 2002 and now serves all major hospital in the Texas Medical Center and several community hospitals. The program facilitates hospital personal pet visits as well as helps low-income people living with disabling illnesses to keep their pets by providing pet food, veterinary care, grooming, dog walking, emergency foster care and community education.  Services also include care for a patient’s pet at home while the patient is hospitalized.

Many hospitals offer animal assisted therapy, a practice that dates back to the 18th century.  Patients are more comfortable and responsive after seeing, touching and talking to an animal.  Some recent research even suggests that contact with a pet has a therapeutic benefit for the sick. Beginning in 1980, researchers began exploring how pet ownership affected physical and mental health, such as reducing tension and keeping down cholesterol levels. In addition, studies indicate that simply having an animal visit in a health care situation is also beneficial.

“Pets have strong bonds with their masters,” Lewis said.  “Seeing, touching and talking to their own pet in the hospital is a powerful gift for these patients, at a time when they really need it the most.”

To learn more about Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, visit MethodistSugarLand.com or to learn more about the PAWS Houston program, visit pawshouston.org.